Vietnamese Drug Centers: Forced Labor, Human Rights Violations


Julian Abram Wainwright/Vinaland
Recovering drug users share buckets of water for a communal bath at a drug rehabilitation center in Vietnam

​Vietnam subjects patients at so-called “drug rehabilitation centers” to abuse and forced labor, according to an international human rights group which called for the facilities to be shut down.

Human Rights Watch, based in New York, on Wednesday called on international donors to check the programs they fund inside the drug rehab centers for possible human rights violations, reports Mike Ives at
The United States and Australian governments, the United Nations, the World Bank and other international donors may “indirectly facilitate human rights abuses” by paying for drug dependency and HIV treatments for addicts inside the centers, according to the group.

About 309,000 drug users passed through the rehab centers in the decade from 2000 to 2010. During that time, the number of rehab centers more than doubled, from 56 to 123, and the maximum length of detention rose from one to four years, according to report, which cited figures from the Vietnamese government.

Julian Abram Wainwright Photography
AIDS patients in drug rehab attend a meeting in Vietnam

​The rehab centers are “ineffective and abusive,” according to the report, which said donor support for such facilities allows Vietnam to “maximize profits” by detaining drug addicts for longer periods and forcing them to perform manual labor.
“People who are dependent on drugs in Vietnam need access to community-based, voluntary treatment,” said Joe Amon, health and human rights director at Human Rights Watch. “Instead, the government is locking them up, private companies are exploiting their labor and international donors are turning a blind eye to the torture and abuses they face.”
Predictably, Vietnamese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Nguyen Phuong Nga claimed the report is “groundless.” Nga claimed that mandatory drug rehabilitation in Vietnam is “humane, effective and beneficial for drug users, community and society.”
Vietnam’s drug rehabilitation centers comply with Vietnamese law and are “in line” with drug treatment principles of the U.S., the U.N. and the World Health Organization, Nga claimed.
Officials from the U.S., Australia and the United Nations declined to comment.

Julian Abram Wainwright Photography
Detainees in Vietnamese drug rehab centers are paid as little as $5 a month for forced labor.

​Last year, the U.S. provided $7.7 million to Vietnam for methadone treatment and “community-based drug intervention,” according to the U.S. Embassy website. Users of injectable drugs like heroin are a big factor in Vietnam’s HIV epidemic.
The World Bank funded an HIV/AIDS prevention program in 20 drug rehab centers across Vietnam; that program ended last year.
“We have not received any reports of human rights violations in the drug rehabilitation clinics supported by the project,” said Victoria Kwakwa, World Bank Vietnam’s country director. “If we had, we would have conducted a supervision mission to ensure bank policies were met and concerns fully examined.”
Those detained inside the Vietnamese rehab centers report beatings and solitary confinement. Some who attempted escape from the hellhole said they were captured and shocked with an electric baton as punishment, according to the 126-page report.
Interviewed in the report were 34 former detainees in 2010 were were held at 14 rehab centers in and around Ho Chi Minh City, formerly Saigon, in the southern part of Vietnam.
The report charged Vietnam with forcing prisoners to sew clothing, lay bricks or husk cashews for between $5 and $20 per month, a violation of Vietnamese labor law, which guarantees a minimum wage of about $40 a month.
Donors should focus on releasing detainees back into their communities, the report said, instead of providing services inside the centers. The report cited government figures that place the relapse rate for drug users treated inside the centers at 80 percent or more.
China and other Southeast Asian countries have also come under fire in recent years for alleged human rights violations inside similar “drug rehabilitation” facilities.
Several en-masse escapes have been reported in recent years from Vietnam’s drug rehab centers.
The centers, which began operating after the end of the Vietnam War in 1975, are part of the country’s ongoing puritanical campaign against drug abuse, prostitution and other so-called “social evils.”
Most detainees in the rehab centers are young male heroin users, according to the Human Rights Report, which cites government data. Some are rounded up by police, while others are sent to the centers by family members.
According to the Vietnamese government, there are 138,000 drug addicts in the country, and 30 percent of them are HIV positive, down from 60 percent in 2006.